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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Sweden's Immigrations Issues and Anti-Semitism

You may not know me yet, but I like to look behind things, inside them, to try to understand the story beneath the story. 

I am also the niece, grandchild and wife of immigrants and refugees, and I am basically uncomfortable with surface conversation. When you speak to people, and when you listen, listen with the heart, often what you hear are old wounds or fresh ones, and the ways that people are working to hide from or heal both. 

 So I read with dread of issues of anti-Semitism with Syrian immigrants in Sweden's larger cities, and how the Swedish government is handling them. As refugees stream in from countries that have been raised on a stead diet of Holocaust denial and antisemitism, they bring those beliefs with them--obviously. Sweden has had to create separate facilities for the safety of some classes of refugees--Christian Syrians, LGBT Syrians, or Syrian mothers traveling alone with their sons. 
Look at this sweet face! Looks a lot like my children. 

A second, even more spooky decision is that, out of concern for teacher safety, many schools in immigrant-dominated areas of Sweden--Swedish teachers are avoiding Holocaust education because this upsets pupils who receive a very different version of the Holocaust at home or in their countries of origin. At the same schools, Jewish teachers are asked to keep their religious identity secret and are not allowed to teach if they refuse. 

And so far, nobody in the government is finding no complaint or political action, not from unions, state employers or government authorities. Concerns about anti-Islamic sentiment are overwhelming concerns about anti-Semitism, as though this were a battle of the bigotries. There are, after years of this immigration, no government efforts to educate against either nativist or imported anti-Semitism--and in the last year, Sweden essentially absorbed a refugee population the size of the city of Birmingham, England. 

And, although today it is known as a beacon of acceptance, Sweden has never been free of antisemitism itself. Jews were not accepted as full citizens in Sweden until 1910, Sweden was not kind during the Holocaust. TV4, one of Sweden's most important media outlets, said last year that anti-Semitism was merely a "different opinion." Last year, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom (just imagine the umlaut) complained, "The Jews are campaigning against me." And nobody protested. 

And in a surreal exploration of memory, Jews were not invited to attend last year's anti-racism demonstration in Ulmea, Sweden, schedule to commemorate Kristallnacht, ( night in Germany when 400 Jews were murdered and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps.) Explained Jan Hagglund, (umlaut again) one of the organizers, the  demonstration would be "perceived as an unwelcoming or unsafe situation for" Jews.
There are fewer than 20,000 Jews in Sweden, and I think many of them will be leaving soon. 

I just finished visiting our Somali neighbors, who--along with their own seven children, (two with disabilities) have welcomed a brother-in-law and his many little ones into their tiny rental house--like our neighbors, they came straight from a Kenyan refugee camp. When I came by to bring them two toy strollers, five little babies poured from the house, clamoring happily for the toys. 

I then spent some time helping the sister-in-law look for a rental she could afford, as they have no internet. In our city, we have regular interactions with Muslim immigrants. I tell them, every chance I get, that we are Jews and we say Shalom Aleicheim--Aleichem Shalom just as they do.  In our community, the strong outreach and connections between the Muslim and Jewish communities go a long way towards addressing bigotry from either side. Last Passover, I held a Syrian mother as she cried over her daughter, left behind in Syria. She knew I was a Jew, a Jew with a daughter almost the exact same age as hers. And she knew I had a heart. It is so hard to hate someone who shares your grief. 

This is not the only source for my story today, but it's a specific one, listing three different Jewish teacher's experiences. I think I'll go soak my infected fingernail and read a children's book--something cheery--and forget about the problems of the world.

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